ANTHONY ALBANESE, JIM CHALMERS & KRISTY MCBAIN – TRANSCRIPT – DOORSTOP INTERVIEW – NAROOMA – WEDNESDAY, 27 MAY 2020
ANTHONY ALBANESE MP
LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
MEMBER FOR GRAYNDLER
MEMBER FOR RANKIN
LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO
WEDNESDAY, 27 MAY 2020
SUBJECTS: Eden-Monaro by-election; JobKeeper issues; Job Maker; industrial relations; bushfire recovery; Al Kuwait; Malka Leifer Belt and Road initiative; Reconciliation Week; migration.
KRISTY MCBAIN, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR EDEN-MONARO: Thank you all for being here today. We are at Narooma this morning with Labor Leader, Anthony Albanese, and Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers. I am Kristy McBain, Labor’s candidate in the upcoming Eden-Monaro by-election. Today we will be in Narooma, Cobargo and Bega speaking with local small businesses about how they are doing on the back of droughts, bushfires and COVID-19. Small business is the lifeblood of regional communities such as Eden-Monaro. We’ve been speaking this morning with local business owner Christie at the Narooma Ice-Creamery who employs 40 locals, 40 people in hospitality and tourism jobs, 40 people who have had limited work since the turn of 2020 because of bushfire crisis, and now corona. Forty people who would normally be employed much more than they are at the moment, and 40 people that would be getting money that aren’t now. Some are eligible for JobKeeper, but some aren’t, which makes employment of local people really hard. Small business, as I said, in this area, and right across Eden-Monaro are the way that we make our money. And as I said, we’ve been struggling significantly on the back of bushfires, coronavirus, and drought. It was fantastic to see that New South Wales state government give some money to dairy farmers who have been doing it significantly tough. But that program left out other livestock farmers, our cattle farmers, our sheep farmers, our chicken farmers. These people are doing it very tough at the moment and we need to make sure that we don’t forget them. We’ve got people falling through the cracks, falling through the cracks of JobKeeper, falling through the cracks of these primary production grants, and we cannot forget them. Our local communities need people employed and we need to keep production going. I’ll hand over to Anthony Albanese.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well, thanks very much, Kristy. It’s great to be back here in Eden-Monaro, this beautiful electorate in a beautiful part of Australia, but one which has really been doing it tough from the triple whammy of drought, then followed by bushfires, then followed by the pandemic, but this community is resilient. This morning with Jim Chalmers, we met with Christie from the Ice-Creamery, who employs 40 people, only seven of whom now are eligible for JobKeeper. At the same time, one of the things that Christie pointed out to us is a very practical example of a business whereby some people are earning more than they used to because of JobKeeper, while others are simply missing out and unable to therefore be employed. JobKeeper is a good idea, but it’s been implemented badly. And we know that the $60 billion error that was exposed late last Friday afternoon is the biggest accounting mistake in Australian political history. And we know that the Government would rather do anything than to talk about it and to fix the problems which are there. But the problem isn’t just a $60 billion figure as an academic exercise. The problem is the impact on people. People who aren’t able to be employed. People who haven’t gotten income for themselves and their families, because of the inflexibility of the way that JobKeeper was designed. Labor will continue to be constructive. And when we examine issues, whether they be the bushfire issue of which the Senate inquiry begins today, we will follow up on any recommendations that come from it. This community did suffer greatly from the bushfires. And one of the concerns that’s been expressed to me when I’ve been here on the coast, and indeed in the Snowy, is that the recommendations which flow from the Royal Commission and from the Senate inquiry need to be followed up with action, need to be followed up with funding. We know that in the lead up to the bushfires last year, there were warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology, from anyone who had examined the issues, including, of course, the former fire chiefs of what was coming. And there was a complacency in the lead up to it, not on behalf of the community, but on behalf of the Federal Government. So that on issues such as aerial firefighting, we had a circumstance whereby it took the calling of the by-election to get an announcement from the Government consistent with the business case and with the recommendations which had been before this Government, not for weeks or months, but for the last two years. And that’s why we need to make sure that there’s follow up to any of these issues. We’ll be talking with small businesses today about the impact of the bushfires and then the impact, of course, of the pandemic and how this resilient community can be given support. We know that in Kristy McBain, we have our first-choice candidate, who is a first-class candidate, who is running to make a difference to the people of this community, not running in terms of the squabbling that’s happened on the other side of politics but running for all the right reasons because she’s passionate. She’s committed to making a difference here. And I’d ask Jim to make some comments.
JIM CHALMERS, SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks Anthony and Kristy as well. This by-election is an opportunity to send a message to Scott Morrison on behalf of communities left behind after the bushfires, and workers who have been left out of the JobKeeper wage subsidies. Too many Australian workers are being left out of JobKeeper. We’re meeting this morning with businesses who can’t access for enough of their workers, the JobKeeper program. Something like 11,400 casual workers in this region alone are missing out on JobKeeper and we know that there are many, many like them in other communities, and right around the country as well. For too many workers this Government has turned JobKeeper into a “job shambles” and we’re seeing the impacts of that on real people and real businesses in real communities like the one that we need Kristy McBain to represent in the national Parliament. A lot of people cannot understand why Scott Morrison seems to want a pat on the back for this $60 billion blunder as though it’s good news, at the same time as people are struggling because they can’t access the wage subsidies that they need and deserve to get through a very difficult period. The Prime Minister gave a speech yesterday at the National Press Club in Canberra. These communities have become accustomed to big announcements and big speeches from the Prime Minister, but what we really need is follow through.
We need less spin from the Prime Minister, and more substance on the ground in communities like this one. In that speech, he talked about skills and he talked about industrial relations. If the Prime Minister can’t even get his JobKeeper program right, how can we trust him to get skills, or industrial relations, or the recovery of communities and economies like this one that we’re in today right?
It should be thoroughly unremarkable that businesses, unions, and governments work together in the common interest. It’s only become newsworthy because for seven years this Government has run down the important relationships between workers, the unions, businesses, and the Government. It should be unremarkable to hear the words that he said yesterday. Communities like this have had enough words. They need delivery, they need substance and they don’t want to be forgotten when the cameras pack up and move on. That’s why I’m so pleased that we have such a terrific candidate in Kristy McBain, because Anthony and Kristy will never abandon communities like this like Scott Morrison has.
ALBANESE: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Just on the industrial relations working groups, you have signalled that you will keep your policy (inaudible) after the election, there is five key issues now in industrial relations. And those groups are going to be wrapped up by September. Is it time to take a solid position on some of those big issues?
ALBANESE: Well, I’m wondering what the Government’s position is on those five issues. What they’ve done is establish working groups. This Government has been in office for seven years. And for seven years what they’ve done is denigrate workers organisations, attack trade unions, and said that they’ve been a promoter of conflict. They passed the Ensuring Integrity Bill through the House of Representatives last year without allowing a single word of debate. Not one word. Unprecedented since federation that would occur. But it occurred on the last sitting day of 2019. Since I’ve been the Leader of the Labor Party, I, on the day I was elected unopposed as Leader, one year ago to the very day today, one of the first things I said, was that Australians were suffering from conflict fatigue. One of the first things that I said was consistent with what I had said for years previously, that business and unions have common interest. There should be nothing remarkable about that statement. It’s something that I put into practice as well as a minister in the former Labor Government with the creation of organisations like Infrastructure Australia, with the creation of organisations like the Major Cities Unit and others to drive change through the agenda, to get people sitting around a table and talking about that change. It’s something I’ve always conducted myself in. It’s something that Jim and I have been participating in meetings, not just with the ACTU, but with the Business Council of Australia since I became the Leader of the Labor Party. Yesterday, I had a round table that was scheduled some time ago with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It’s something that we do on a regular basis. It’s not a front-page story because it’s what we do. Unlike Scott Morrison, where it is remarkable that he’s prepared to talk to a worker.
JOURNALIST: Is the danger for Labor that the unions, the Government, and business agreeing to sit down together, is it a danger for the Labor Party that you’ll be left in the cold? And what are the red lines for you out of this industrial relations process that you won’t cop?
ALBANESE: What we don’t do is what Scott Morrison did this morning on the AM program where he was asked a very simple question. Could he guarantee that workers would not be worse off? And he refused to give that commitment. The fact is that our industrial relations system, I gave my vision statement, spoke about common interests, spoke about industrial relations and the fact the enterprise bargaining system was not working for employers because productivity went backwards last year, and it’s not working for employees, because wages have been stagnant for a long period of time. It’s one of the things holding back the Government over its seven years. Something that we have emphasised is that prior to the bushfires, prior to the pandemic, all of the key economic indicators were going in the wrong direction. Whether it be stagnant wages, whether it be consumer demand, business investment, debt which had doubled, productivity going backwards, all of the economic indicators were going in the wrong direction. Now, I think it’s a good thing that people are having discussions. I always do have discussions. There’s nothing new in it for Labor to be embarked on a process of engagement. We’ll continue to engage with unions and with the business community.
JOURNALIST: Any worker that is worse off, that’s a red line for you?
ALBANESE: Well, look, the fact is that there’s a problem in the economy which is wages. Wages have been stagnant. That is a problem for the national economy. And one of the things we know is that every time this Coalition Government has engaged in industrial relations, what they call reform, it has been aimed at driving down wages and conditions for working people. Every time. And the fact is that they have been engaged in that process. And it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for the Government to say that unions and business should have common interests, and that they do in fact have common interests. Workers have an interest in employers and businesses being profitable. But businesses have an interest as well, in increasing demand in the economy by dealing with the stagnant wages issue.
JOURNALIST: On enterprise bargaining, one side of the fence, the unions are looking at pattern bargaining, something that was sort of mentioned at the ALP policy platform at the last national conference, the other side is getting rid of complexity in the Better Off Overall Test. Where do you sit on the spectrum?
ALBANESE: What I stand is for common interests to be delivered, which delivers good outcomes for employers and good outcomes for unions.
JOURNALIST: The ABC has revealed that an SAS operative is under investigation for killing a civilian that was both unarmed and intellectually disabled. Do you believe the investigation (inaudible) by the Federal Government (inaudible)?
ALBANESE: On national security issues, I believe in getting proper briefings. And I will be asking for a proper briefing from the appropriate organisations before making comment. I don’t believe that these issues should be politicised.
JOURNALIST: Just on the Al Kuwait situation in WA, we have got the WA Government blaming Federal agricultural department officials and another state-federal blame game going on. What’s your take on the situation and what’s your reading of who is to blame?
ALBANESE: Well, the Constitution says that the national Government is responsible for our immigration and our borders. This is a Federal Government whereby Peter Dutton, if he was less obsessed with Queensland state politics and more focused on doing his day job, we mightn’t have the Ruby Princess, and now this debacle in Western Australia. The Federal Government is responsible for our borders. That’s very clear. And it’s quite extraordinary that they’ve been prepared to walk away from that. From time to time, Peter Dutton, he’s always trying to claim credit for controlling the borders except when it’s not convenient.
JOURNALIST: David Littleproud’s argument is basically that the Ag department isn’t responsible for human diseases, does that sit with you?
ALBANESE: This is a Government that have an excuse for everything and a plan for nothing. This is a Government that whether it is David Littleproud with this issue, his unfortunate comments last week, when after the Target announcement, he actually suggested that people boycott the other businesses like Bunnings and others that would result in further unemployment and he then sought to walk away or excuse those comments. We have Angus Taylor, that no one’s responsible for documents that appeared from the sky handed down to The Daily Telegraph but won’t say where the documents came from, we have sports rorts that just apparently happened, even after the election was called, in spite of the fact that the Audit Office clearly say that the Prime Minister’s Office sought the authority to actually make those announcements. It’s about time this Government actually took responsibility for events that occur on its watch.
JOURNALIST: The Age has revealed that the Victorian Government did not consult at all with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before signing an agreement on the Belt and Road Initiative with the Chinese Government. Is this a failure of complication?
ALBANESE: I’m not aware of what those processes are. I am aware that the Commonwealth Government, including Steve Ciobo, as Trade Minister under this Government has signed agreements with regard to economic partnerships with China. I am aware of the free trade agreement that was trumpeted by this Government, signed by the Coalition. And I’m aware that this Government was involved in those issues. And that’s my focus is on the role of the Federal Government when it comes to trade and economic engagement. And it’s up to the Federal Government to explain why they think those issues were either appropriate or that things have changed. It’s up to them.
JOURNALIST: What is your reaction to Malka Leifer being possibly extradited from Israel to face sex crime charges here?
ALBANESE: Look, that’s a good thing. And I’ve met with some of the alleged victims. They have a powerful story. And it is appropriate that extradition take place. And I stand with those women who want to see justice done. On the line?
JOURNALIST: Just on the industrial relations issue if we could. Given unions were at this roundtable, surely, they wouldn’t agree to anything which would make workers worse off and it is a good thing, isn’t it?
ALBANESE: I’m not sure what the point of the question is. Sorry?
JOURNALIST: Given that unions are at the table, you mentioned that you are concerned the Prime Minister won’t rule out measures that would make workers worse off, but given the unions are involved in the process, surely, they wouldn’t agree to anything that would make workers worse off, would they?
ALBANESE: Well, of course they wouldn’t. I’m not talking about unions’ response, I’m talking about the Prime Minister’s response. And you don’t erase decades of history with a speech at the National Press Club. You don’t. The bloke who voted was there supporting the various campaigns that have been there, the Ensuring Integrity legislation. The crunching that through in the Parliament last year was an extraordinary action. And the Prime Minister agreeing to withdraw legislation that had no chance of passing the Senate, I don’t see as a big concession. Unions will stand up for the rights of workers. And indeed, there are many in the business community as well who will enter any discussions in a constructive way. We’re not opposed to discussions. We have been saying for a long, long period of time, go back one year ago, have a look at the transcript when I became Labor Leader, press conference in CPO in Sydney, I spoke about conflict fatigue, I spoke about unions and business having common interest. I spoke about that way back in the Whitlam lecture. I spoke about that at the National Press Club at the end of last year. I spoke about that in my speech in the caucus, the fifth vision statement three weeks ago. There’s nothing new about that. But at the end of the day, it requires Government to legislate changes. And Labor will be vigilant in making sure that changes are in the interests of working people, are in the interests of productivity in terms of business, and in the national interest. That’s what Labor will do. Historically, in recent times, going back years and indeed decades, to the Howard Government, this has been a Coalition that has consistently attacked trade unions and attacked the right of workers to even belong to unions and has attacked wages and conditions. One of the issues that has come out of this pandemic is a lack of security at work. And just a week ago, there was, of course, a finding by the court that employers which classify people as casuals, who aren’t casuals, in terms of the specific case, in Queensland, in the Bowen Basin, whereby people who are working side by side doing the same task, but one, essentially with a different classification. And that’s occurred in a range of ways. The use of casuals, as a classification, labour hire companies, there’s been a range of methods used which have been used to undermine wages and conditions, which have been used so that workers standing side by side doing the same task can have a differential in those Queensland mines, for example, of up to $60,000 and one worker being paid annual leave and sick leave and other workers not receiving those entitlements. That has had a cheer squad from this Government. Matt Canavan and others, Christian Porter, have not only not had anything to say, they have been a cheer squad for driving down those wages and conditions. So, Labor will be vigilant about these issues. I’m sure that the trade union movement will continue to be as well. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: Brett Mason from SBS. Try the mint choc chip ice-cream at the Narooma Ice Creamery, it’s a good flavour.
ALBANESE: So that the transcript gets that, Brett Mason has recommended the mint choc chip from the Narooma Ice Creamery. It’s very important that be included. There’s a number of people here. And Paul Erickson, the National Secretary, is just racing off so that he gets to the front of the queue. Way to go, Brett.
JOURNALIST: Just on overseas migration, we know that’s estimated to fall by as much as 85 per cent. What role do you see migration playing in the economic recovery? And what do you say to those members of your own Party who are calling for migration to be reduced?
ALBANESE: Well, migration has played an important role in the Australian story. And with the exception of First Nations people, and I recognise that we are in Reconciliation Week this week. And indeed, today is also importantly, the anniversary of John Howard’s inadequate response 20 years ago, to the day today to the report that was commissioned by the Hawke Government in 1991, from memory, and it was received, and the response was pretty inadequate. And I have been talking this week with Pat Dodson and Linda Burney, and Malarndirri McCarthy, in particular, about how we progress reconciliation. And I segue to that because it is an important issue. It’s unfinished business. And we remain weaker as a nation whilst that occurs. But since then, we’re all either migrants or descendants of migrants. I myself have a bit of Italian blood, Irish blood and probably a whole lot of other things in me as well. And we are the most successful multicultural nation on Earth. And one of the things that reasons for our success has been the economic contribution of migrants. An economic contribution in terms of work and skills. But also, an economic contribution in terms of what they have brought to this great country. So, I’m a supporter of migration. We need to have, it’s legitimate to have a discussion about the makeup of permanent migration versus temporary migration. And we need to make sure that temporary migrants aren’t just used to drive down wages in conditions, like some abuse of 457 visas have occurred in the past, rather than we have seen exploitation, wage theft. We’ve seen a whole range of views issues. And it’s legitimate for us to have a discussion about the makeup of the migration program. But Labor remains, and it’s certainly not an issue internally, Labor remains a political party that recognises the important role that migration has played to this country. Thanks very much.